Native Americans of hemisphere are drawn to Oklahoma event.

Three Pueblo Indian women of the Jemez tribe had just sung “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” To them, the song’s lyrics meant a lot: people in their northern New Mexico tribe of 2,000 take advantage of, and poke fun at, the tribe’s handful of Christians, said the women.

“Though people call me a holy roller. I won’t turn back, I won’t turn back,” went a final verse.

Afterwards, Indian evangelist Thomas Claus dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief. “It’s just like I’m living in a dream to see all this meeting come to pass,” he said from the speaker’s podium.

Claus, a full-blooded Mohawk, spent most of the previous two years organizing last month’s “Sonrise ’81,” The first-ever inter-American congress of Christian Indian leaders called attention to the need for indigenous Indian leaders and churches. The Jemez women and other delegates reminded listeners that Indian Christians form a minority among their own people.

While certain tribes and Indian groups have growing churches, by and large Native Americans remain a sizable mission field. Only about 2 percent of the 20 million Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts in the Western hemisphere are evangelical Christians, asserted planners of Sonrise ’81. They estimate that 500 of the 1,200 tribes lack an indigenous, evangelical church.

A trained, motivated leadership could turn things around, Indian evangelicals believe. “I’d like to see every Indian church have an Indian pastor,” said Claus. “We need more Indian Bible institutes and colleges.”

Seeking to build and stimulate this leadership, about 300 invited Native American leaders came to last month’s congress held on the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman. Most represented North ...

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